It was a meeting in the Sheriff’s department that we at Horse Advocates had been hoping for since before Sheriff Elder took office late last fall. It had already been postponed once and finally the day arrived. Three members of our board were there along with representation from two local horse rescues and a few local equestrian facilities. As you might imagine, law enforcement and prosecution were very well represented. There were around 25 of us, so I will spare you the list, but a strong turnout for the first meeting of this kind. I think we are all working on putting faces with names still. Sheriff Elder did drop by to greet us.
The meeting was moderated by Lieutenant J.D. Ross of the Community Impact Section at the Sheriff’s office and his opening remarks included a commitment to better, more open communication.
I’m just going to blurt out the bad news first. The biggest concern that Horse Advocate members asked us to present was the issue of the length of time and number of visits that some neglect cases take before the horses can get the help they need. The answer didn’t make us happy–there is no answer. Each individual case is different and sometimes that means letting the horses struggle longer to get past the level of misdemeanor to felony. The DA’s office has a 100% conviction rate once the case goes to trial, but horses have paid the price for that, every bit as much as investigating officers and the District Attorney’s office. One instance in Pueblo was related: 10 years and 150 horses lost. I am sure it was meant to let us know it could be worse, but it didn’t cheer anyone in the room to hear it.
Horse Advocates had hoped to see the Sheriff’s office invite the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region to be a bigger part of the actual protocol of neglect investigations. We would like to see the highest level of training available for our first responders to neglect cases. Instead, a different solution–we were introduced to a new division, called Rural Enforcement and Outreach (REO). Right now there are three officers in this new division and they are being trained. It will be their job to be a larger presence in the eastern part of the county and as we understand it, they will deal with the neglect cases directly.
The question of why investigations don’t move faster should be helped by this division. We were told more officers and more money were required, so this is a partial answer. Horse Advocates will continue to push for a community group of professionals and volunteers to support the REO work in the county and we are forming a list of resources for these officers.
During a break in the middle of the meeting and then again just after the meeting, we had an opportunity to talk to several officers we had spoken with previously on the phone, and to a person, they were very forthright and communicative. In the past it has been very challenging to even find the number to call, but now we have cell numbers for each of the REO officers and a promise to be available.
Horse Advocates met with Sheriff Elder in January, when he assured us that horse welfare was a huge priority in his new administration. The very next day officers raided a local horse rescue and ordered two horses to be returned to the neglectors who had not kept the agreements of their adoption contract. This case is ongoing but it put a bad taste in our mouths for this new sheriff. Our local horse rescues are the heart and soul of our efforts for neglected or abused horses in El Paso County.
But yesterday at this meeting, we were able to stand eye to eye with law enforcement and speak like reasonable people. We didn’t always agree and there is a long road ahead. That’s the win–this road that did not exist when the previous sheriff was in office or before Horse Advocates had formed, is open to us now. We have all come a very long way in a short time.
The sheriff’s office has promised to keep meeting with us and we plan to continue our push on all of our goals for the sake of the horses in our community, as well as the general safety of all of our residents. Animal abuse is the common precursor to other violence against children, elders and in domestic violence cases. When animal abusers are dealt with, our entire community is safer, and that is a goal that everyone agrees on.
In the end, Horse Advocates is right where we want to be. Please continue to contact us with your concerns and ideas. We need your help to remain a voice that speaks loud and clear: We are Horse Advocates of Colorado and we stand for horses.
Anna Blake for Horse Advocates.